Bangladesh v. New Zealand.
This is not, I will admit, a contest to set the world on fire. Certainly not in comparison to India v. South Africa, which starts the day after the first ODI at Napier and will in all likelihood draw the attention of most of the cricket-watching world, including probably a good number of less-than-patriotic Bangladeshis and Kiwis. (Yeah, you know who you are. Shame on you.)
Logically, it shouldn’t have been a tough call, which series to watch. On one hand, my national side, riding an unprecedented wave of not-being-crap, facing a wounded, cornered tiger of a South African team: one supremely confident side on home turf facing one with a severely dented collective ego to rebuild and an extremely large point to prove. Both high-ranking teams with explosive, brilliant players. There is no way that this series will fail to entertain.
By contrast, there is New Zealand facing Bangladesh – the perennial runners-up versus the eternal optimists. New Zealand are, as has become the norm for them, without several of their key players because of injuries – Jesse Ryder, Shane Bond, Kyle Mills and one of my personal favourites, Grant Elliott (yes, really. Shut up! He’s awesome), are all MIA, which has the effect of making the series much less interesting (to me, anyway) while affecting the probable outcome very little. Because Bangladesh have just been pounded into the ground, then dragged back out only to be fed through a meat grinder and then tossed down a mine-shaft by India, and New Zealand have turned winning ODIs while shedding players like autumn foliage into something of an art form. Making predictions in cricket is a fool’s game, but you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing rationale for this being anything other than a series weighted heavily in the Kiwis’ favour.
So, no contest, right? India-SA all the way. Unfortunately, no. Because I love NZ, and I love Bangladesh possibly even more, so I’ll be watching every moment, if not necessarily from the edge of my seat. This might seem like a good thing, in that either way a side I like is going to come out on top at the end of it all, but in actual fact it’s an extremely surreal feeling. I’m not entirely sure that I like it. When New Zealand pummelled Bangladesh to a pulp at the T20 in Hamilton, I experienced something of an epiphany: this must be what genuine, bona fide masochism feels like. There’s the pleasure of your side sailing effortlessly to a thumping win, mixed in with the simultaneous anguish of your side suffering a thorough walloping. It’s probably not quite on the level of whips and chains and weird arrangements of rope, but I’d be willing to bet it’s on the low end of the same scale.